From wild ponies to thoroughbred racehorses, Jo Taylor’s skilful paintings reflect their beauty, agility and explosive speed
Globally renowned artist Jo Taylor, who lives and works in the Ribble Valley, recently launched a new body of work at a solo exhibition in London.
While Jo is famous for her paintings of thoroughbred racehorses, capturing their explosive energy and speed of movement, her exhibition at Thompson’s Gallery in Marylebone diversifies and features the wilderness and wildlife of the West Country and County Galway.
“I have exhibited at the gallery for many years but this work is a little bit different, it’s more about location,” says Jo of her ‘Running Wild’ exhibition.
“I was painting what I was seeing and while the horse is embedded in me, for this body of work I have painted stags, wild ponies, herds of deer and owls. In many of these paintings I actually started with the landscape.
“My style is always evolving – if you think about it working with stallions or bulls, their physique flows and undulates like the landscape.”
Jo, who also spent time observing the wild ponies of Exmoor and horseracing along the beaches on the west coast of Ireland, adds: “Watching the horses on the beach was an amazing feeling of man, horse and the surrounding landscape. It is a wonderful thing to see – and to be away from the bling of the usual racing environment,” explains Jo, who has worked at some of the world’s most famous racecourses in the US, UK and Dubai.
“I first came across the horse racing on the beach in Ireland a few years ago and it became a really integral part of my work. They take the horses in the sea before racing and wash them down afterwards, letting them roll in the sand – it’s a great spectacle. It’s also perfect for me as an artist as I like to work quickly, on preliminary sketches, to capture the movement.
“The Irish boys have no fear. They just get on the horse and go – they have horses in their blood.”
Jo, who was the first female artist to exhibit at the Jockey Club in 2012, completed an artist’s residency at Liverpool University’s Department of Veterinary Science, where she developed a thorough understanding of horse anatomy – something that has been a constant in her work over the years.
Many of her paintings are huge, and feature in private collections all over the world: “Having worked on ‘Running Wild’ I want to get back to the big drawings of horses. It’s the nature of the beast,” adds Jo, whose work is also exhibited in Dubai, the US, Sussex ‘polo country’ and, closer to home, Jo’s work can be seen at Breda Murphy, Whalley.
This year Jo has once again been invited back to the US to Keeneland racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, as artist in residence.
A recent magazine commentary on Jo’s work ‘Midnight Rider’, which featured in a sporting art auction at Keeneland in November, said: “I really like the strength of the running horse. I like the simplicity of it. She really understands how a horse moves.”
Jo adds: “When I go to Keeneland I stay in a beautiful artists’ cottage in the grounds of the racecourse. There is a studio there too.
“In the States they train the horses as well as race them on the course, unlike here in the UK, so I am on the go from 6am to 9pm. Much of my work is based around the mannerisms between horse and rider, so spending so much time watching them train and race is invaluable.”
So, what else does the future hold for Jo, who was privately commissioned to work on a painting as a gift to War Horse film director Steven Spielberg, shortly after the film was released in 2012.
More recently she has been approached by a film maker keen to learn more about Jo’s research on the history and heritage of thoroughbred stallions: “I am amazed by the thoroughbred machine, the character of the thoroughbred, its attitude and athleticism – it is unpredictable, but thoroughly beautiful.
“I will also definitely be going back to Ireland – if you have that on your doorstep, as an artist you don’t need to go any further.
“I have travelled the world with my work but Ireland I think has the best horsemen in the world and there is always something fascinating within the landscape.”
One of Jo’s more recent ventures has been working with Andrew Balding, brother of TV’s Clare Balding, and trainer to the Queen, as well as working alongside screen print expert Kip Gresham who is producing limited edition prints of her work: “It’s very exciting and quite nerve wracking to watch the different processes, but I am in safe hands with Kip.”
Jo concludes: “People ask me, ‘What is it about horses?’ I just tell them that I love painting them. It’s as simple as that – it’s pure instinct for me, the unique power to nurture the soul is pivotal to my work.”